Ollie Cantos as a blind Filipino-American has defied the odds — in more ways than one. Having become blind as the result of medical complications at birth, Ollie was the object of bullying and taunts as a little boy with no self-confidence. He eventually came to defy conventional thinking by rising in prominence to becoming the highest-ranking person with a disability in the United States federal government.
As a tireless champion for legal services to low-income persons, Ollie served as Board Member and eventually as Vice President of the Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles, one of the largest providers of legal services in the nation. He also served as an appointee of the Board of Governors of the State Bar of California to its Standing Committee on the Delivery of Legal Services.
Within a disability context, Ollie got his start at age 20, holding positions of responsibility at the local, state, and national level within the National Federation of the Blind. Subsequently moving into the cross-disability arena and in spite of significant obstacles, he became a civil rights attorney and worked at the Disability Rights Legal Center in Los Angeles. Following a three-year term there, he was recruited to relocate to Washington DC to become General Counsel and Director of Programs for the now-130,000-memberAmerican Association of People with Disabilities. That led to him serving as a leader in the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice as Special Assistant and later Special Counsel to the Assistant Attorney General. Ollie was then appointed for two terms of service as Associate Director of the Domestic Policy Council at the White House under President George W. Bush. Ollie subsequently returned to the Justice Department, accepting an appointment at age 37 to serve as Vice-Chairman of the President’s Committee for People with Intellectual Disabilities, effectively working under both Republican and Democratic administrations.
Today, Ollie continues his public service under President Barack Obama as Special Counsel in the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights at the U.S. Department of Education. Here, his work has expanded to address a broader portfolio beyond disability issues alone.
But, Ollie’s work spans far beyond his leadership in the public arena. He has served as a long-time attorney mentor for the American Bar Association Commission on Mental and Physical Disability Law and was once a member of the Commission as well. For more than ten years, he has been a Big Brother mentor in a Los Angeles-based program to a kid who has now grown to adulthood and who is now an airman with the United States Air Force. In addition, Ollie has mentored African-American foster children living in Washington, DC while serving on the board of a local non-profit organization providing social services to the local Latino low-income community. In addition, Ollie was Academic Advisory Board Member to a group once known as LeadAmerica, a national youth leadership development organization dedicated to teaching thousands of junior high school and high school students principles from within the personal development space. Ollie has also spent years on disability-related issues including assistive technology, civil rights, criminal justice, emergency preparedness, employment, entrepreneurship, parenting, special education, transportation, veterans’ issues, and independent living.
Loving to have fun ice skating, roller blading, horseback riding, and other activities, Ollie is a three-time finisher of the 26.2-mile Los Angeles Marathon. He is also past Board Member of the Blind Children’s Center in Los Angeles, the ENDependence Center of Northern Virginia, and the Westside Center for Independent Living. In addition, with a uniformed equivalent rank of Lieutenant Commander, he was the first blind person in history to serve as “District Staff Officer – Legal Parliamentarian” in the United States Coast Guard Auxiliary.
Ollie is also a business entrepreneur. He is President and CEO of Prosperity International, LLC, a for- profit company aimed at teaching and arming individuals and organizations with tools and techniques for enhancing branding, visibility, marketability, and spheres of influence.
Ollie has been featured on radio and television and in newspapers and magazines and once received an honor from the President of the Republic of the Philippines before a broadcasting audience of 80 million. Over his lifetime thus far, Ollie has spoken directly to audiences in 42 states totaling more than 58,000 individuals and counting. In addition, he has contributed online content via blogging and videos on YouTube. He has received prominent mention on social media by six-figure and seven- figure income earners as a shining example of a successful and well-rounded person with a “no excuses” attitude.